F1’s generation of ugly cars should be a temporary sight


Caterham CT01

Caterham CT01

Most people who commented on the first pictures of the Caterham CT01 yesterday had the same initial reaction: it’s not a looker.

Its stepped nose, which became an instant subject of derision, is a consequence of new rules aimed at improving the safety of the cars. So will we see something similar on every new car this year?

We can expect much the same from Ferrari when their new car is revealed next week, according to Stefano Domencali: “It?s not that pretty,” he said of the team’s new car, “because the shape defined by the technical regulations does not leave much scope.”

The man behind the CT01, Mike Gascyone, expects other teams to produce similar solutions: “I think you?ll probably be seeing this type of nose on most of the cars this year.”

The rules now require the front portion of a car to be no more than 550mm high. But the section of the nose immediately behind it may be up to 625mm high. Therefore, assuming designers continue to prefer the aerodynamic gains offered by high noses, the CT01 will not be the only car to sport a distinctive snout.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 1996

Raised cockpit sides don't look as bad as this any more

In the coming weeks we will discover whether any of other designers have successfully married the rules on nose dimensions to a more attractive form.

It brings to mind the introduction of higher cockpit sides in 1996. They looked dreadful to begin with, but were eventually incorporated into car design in a much more subtle way.

But this is F1, and aesthetics are not going to have priority over performance. Ugly and fast trumps pretty but slow.

Of course, whether a car is “ugly” or “beautiful” is entirely subjective. Everyone has a different view of when F1 car design was at its best: whether it’s the aerodynamically complex creations of the mid-2000s, the low and wide cars of the mid-1990s, the squat turbo beasts of the eighties, the diverse machinery of the seventies, the tapered cigar tubes seen in the sixties or their front-engined predecessors.

But the stifling of innovation, coupled with some exacting technical specifications in the rule book, has combined to make the current cars look decidedly odd.

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Monaco, 2009

Since 2009, the front and rear wings look like they belong on different cars

The 2009 aerodynamic regulations, introduced to increase overtaking, succeeded mainly in giving the cars an ungainly appearance rather than creating more passing.

The front and rear wings now have disproportionately odd dimensions – low and wide at the front, tall and narrow at the back – and the passage of three years has not made them more pleasing to the eye.

Add to that the stepped noses which may prove ubiquitous in 2012 and we have a decidedly unattractive new generation of F1 cars.

Hopefully some of the bright minds in other teams have devised more elegant solutions to the nose problem which will spare us from seeing a grid full of these awkward creatures.

If they don’t, it should still only be a temporary problem – albeit one we’re going to have to put up with in the medium-term. The proposed 2014 technical regulations will move the nose 300mm lower, which should give teams the opportunity to do away with this unsightly compromise.

The forthcoming rules change will also reduce the width of the front wings, which should also go some way towards improving the cars’ appearance.

But this is also a symptom of something more troubling: the limited scope for innovation and consequent lack of variety in modern F1. The ever-tightening rules are forcing convergence in car design upon the teams, to the extent where F1 increasingly looks like a single-spec series.

A view which is only going to be reinforced if there are 24 cars with alligator noses on the grid in Melbourne.


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Images ?? Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Renault/LAT

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101 comments on F1’s generation of ugly cars should be a temporary sight

  1. Randy Torres (@randytorres) said on 26th January 2012, 20:12

    C’mon its not that bad at all. In fact overall I like the CT01, especially the livery. We’ll see how that nose looks in Ferrari red!

  2. Hope Adrian Newey can make some miracle on the RB8

  3. ShaneB457 (@shaneb12345678910) said on 26th January 2012, 21:02

    Am I the only one who has gotten used to the new look already?

  4. RobTsintas (@robtsintas) said on 26th January 2012, 21:05

    I quite liked the Williams walrus wing, so don’t ask me!

  5. But this is F1, and aesthetics are not going to have priority over performance.

    Keith, why is it that F1 is still sticking to open wheels when the drag they cause is well documented?

  6. Roald (@roald) said on 26th January 2012, 23:56

    FIA should have just removed all the crap from 2008’s cars without changing their dimensions. Slicks were only fair after the cars had lost some 200hp 3 years prior.

  7. Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 27th January 2012, 1:33

    My favourite looking car of all time is the 2007 Ferrari. Having said that, I completely disagree with Keith that the current designs of F1 cars (from 2009-present) are not pretty. Although I found most of the 2009 crop to be butt-ugly, with a few beautiful exceptions, the 2010 cars seemed infinitely more elegant. The past two McLarens for instance have been a thing of beauty. F1 is constantly changing, to me the car designs mark an era out almost as much as the prominent drivers.
    I have no doubt that the public will grow to accept the ‘strange’ new cars quite quickly, as they have done countless times in the past. For instance, the 2008 cars with all their veins and aerodynamic devices look incredibly cluttered.
    Time changes all things, including perspective on what makes an F1 car good looking.

  8. Anti-RBR (@matt2208) said on 27th January 2012, 2:49

    The Cars From 1998 to 2008 (Mostly Mclaren’s) Are Nice.. Now the cars are way to long. And the cars are way to slow. bring back refuelling to. And some decent tyres.

    • David said on 27th January 2012, 7:25

      The 2010 and 2011 Red Bulls have lapped many tracks faster than ever in history, with cornering speeds higher than ever before. But okay, you perceive them to be ‘way to slow’.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 28th January 2012, 16:21

        Sort of proves just how much it was needed to change something after 2008. With those cars and both KERS and DRS and with the softer Pirelli tyres, who knows what speeds we would have seen!

  9. BradFerrari (@brad-ferrari) said on 27th January 2012, 7:21

    I miss the cars of 2008 :(

    The last year of extreme aerodynamics and great looking cars.

  10. Kanil (@kanil) said on 27th January 2012, 7:44

    I imagine I’m in the minority here, but I loved all the little wings and fins on the cars. To me, it’s fascinating to think that every little bit of bodywork plays some role and makes the car go faster (in theory, at least.) As such, the 08 Sauber’s my favorite F1 car… and most of the 09 onward cars look dreadfully boring to me — except perhaps the 09 Renault, which would have looked pretty good if not for the horribly disproportionate wings that we have now.

  11. Alligator nose?

    What you on about? It’s clearly a duck!

    But anybody who knows anything about anything will agree with your point concerning the rules.

    Every single innovation these days is debated, blocked, and then eventually banned the following year – it’s just ridiculous.

    F-Duct, the best innovation in years, banned

    Then they bring in DRS, an overly complicated and convoluted system of fake-overtaking, instead of the original, much better F-Duct innovation.

  12. Shimks (@shimks) said on 27th January 2012, 12:15

    Keith, what a superb command of the English language you have. Another excellently written article.

  13. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 27th January 2012, 13:08

    Safety? Again?

    Don’t get me wrong, safety is absolutely paramount, but surely there has to be an inherent risk to actually justify such a regulation change? I don’t remember very many safety issues in the past few years to do with nose height.

    I’m not saying that safety should be exclusively reactive but just where does the TWG think up these ideas and what’s with the timing of it? Could it not have waited until 2014?

  14. mr ROSSI (@mr-rossi) said on 27th January 2012, 22:48

    Just give me cars that appear similar in silohuette to the `91 jordan and `92 14b. Proper cars. :)

    • @mr Rossi,

      Those are great looking cars too, but the arrival of the stepped floor began to take the edge away from the aesthetics (a subjective opinion). My favourite silhouette is that of the McLaren MP4-4 of 1988 – sleek, wide and breathtakingly powerful!

      I also love the cars from the late 1970s. In fact on my all time good looking F1 cars list, the first place would go to the McLaren MP4/4 (1988), second to the Tyrrell P34 (1976) and third to the Lotus 79 (1978), fourth to the Jordan 191 you suggested and fifth to the 1973 Tyrrell.

  15. HelloKitty said on 28th January 2012, 11:30

    Caterham ditch windtunnell for new design technology.
    See the first images here.


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